Thursday, January 20, 2011

Okinawa, Japan

Map picture

The Non-Island Island; Okinawa, Japan

My stop at Okinawa, Japan has to rank as one of the most disappointing I have experienced. Besides not having much to see, what it did offer was so crowded that it was not a pleasant experience.

But first things first, I have learned that Okinawa is not in fact an island; it is instead a Prefect or State of Japan, and is comprised of 57 islands. Our ship docked at the port city of Naha, and we never even left the city limits on our tour. Our day started with a 6:30 am mandatory inspection by Japanese immigration officials. Every passenger was scanned thermally to insure they were not feverish, and then we were photographed and fingerprinted.

That done I could now start off on the day’s tour, but unfortunately Lisa was under the weather and so I was on my own. It was a dark overcast day with a constant drizzle that at times turned into a real rain. The climate was subtropical, so it was warm and humid. I jumped on our tour bus and found a seat by myself, but the bus was built for the Japanese frame, and even though I had two seats to myself, I could hardly fit into them, not to mention that the bottom was gone on both seats. Since this was considered winter here, they did not turn on the air conditioning or fans, and windows in the bus quickly frosted over from the humidity and body heat. We drove for about 30 minutes to our first stop which was the Shurijo Castle.

Naha (Okinawa), Japan

In the brochure, this had really sounded interesting for two reasons. First, it was a castle from the period when the island was ruled by Emperors from the Ryukyu regime which occurred around 1400 AD. Second, during the Second World War, the Japanese Imperial Navy built its Underground Headquarters underneath the Castle deep beneath the rock.

The brochure was a little misleading from the actual experience. First, the Castle itself has been destroyed many times, most recently at the end of the Second World War. So what we can see today is all a reconstruction of what it is believed to have looked like in the 1400’s. Since 95% of all visitors to Okinawa visit the Castle, it is jammed with tourist all the time, and today, it was overcrowded with an influx of school children visiting from the mainland. We had to walk up some steep wet granite stairs in the drizzle, and once inside, not only did we have to carry our shoes, but no photographs were permitted.

Naha (Okinawa), Japan

The crowds were so dense that all I could manage was to just keep upright and shuffle along following the person in front of me, all the while holding my shoes, camera and umbrella. At the end of this process, which took no more than 15 minutes once we had entered the Castle, we were shunted into a very small gift shop and told we had 45 minutes before our bus would depart. The school children and local visitors were allowed to exit before the gift shop experience. I said there was another reason that the Castle was a disappointment and that is because the brochure clearly made it sound as if you could visit the former Imperial Navy underground headquarters, but once we arrived, we were told that it was now closed to the public – so I guess that is where they came up with the free time for the gift shop!

I sat quietly on a bench for the 45 minutes “people-watching” before again squeezing myself into my bus seat. We made a short drive back into the city center where our driver pointed out the main shopping street. The bus pulled to a stop, and we were given an hour and a half of free time to shop before the bus would take us back to the ship. At that point, I looked outside at the pouring rain and figured I had no interest whatsoever in roaming the shopping stalls of Naha all that time, and so I arranged to find a cab to just take me back to the ship.

End of story and end of day – enough said.

On a lighter note, I do have an interesting story to share. You know the World is a Small Place, but apparently not small enough! I mentioned once that merely by coincidence, two of our closest friends had booked themselves onto the second of the two cruises we are taking on the Ocean Princess. For that reason, we knew they were coming and where to find their room, which has allowed us to have a great time visiting together.

But get this – if we had not known they were going to be on the ship, there is a good chance that we would have never seen them, and at some point in the future once back home, we would have been amazed to learn that we were all on the same ship at the same time. I say this because even though we are all together on a relatively small ship, we have not once run into each other. The ship is only 685’ long and 85’ wide and only carries 640 passengers. You would think that in two weeks together in this small world, we would surely have run across one another, but that has yet to happen. We eat at the early dinner seating, they eat at the later seating. They have never been on the same tour on shore that we have taken and so it goes on and on. I know this is a silly thing to comment on, but it seems so unusual that I thought it worth mentioning.

Tomorrow is a day at sea and will be our last day on the ship. We will depart the ship on Sunday first thing and catch a Delta flight direct to Detroit, and eventually arrive home late Sunday. I hope everyone has enjoyed our journey, and I look forward to seeing you soon.


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